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Update from one of the Marine Conservation Institute’s Mia J. Tegner 2011 award winners

Historical baseline of Diversity and abundance of Peruvian marine mega-vertebrates to disentangle climate from fisheries effects

Researcher: Shaleyla Kelez
Location: Peru

Mia J. Tegner 2011 grant recipient Dr. Shaleyla Kelez examined historical records of marine mega-vertebrates’ abundance and populations off Peru in an effort to distinguish climate from fisheries effects.  Many previous studies have noted a “shift of baseline” over time as scientists shift their comparison point to the beginning of their memory, and later than previous work.  Historical records from guano extraction activities in the mid-1800’s to 1900’s were analyzed to determine populations of seabirds during that time.  They noted periodic cycles of seabird population sizes linked to oceanographic fluctuations in temperature and El Nino events as well as periods of heavy industrial fishing.  Historical whaling records were used to examine population trends of large cetacean species over the same time frame, indicating only humpback whales seem to be recovering from industrial whaling.
Project Description:
There has been a recent spike sea turtle nesting
activity along the northern coast of Peru
Peruvian marine ecosystems are extremely productive and support a high level of biodiversity as a result of a complex interaction of ocean-atmosphere coupling (e.g. currents, winds) as well as inter-annual (i.e. El Niño and the Southern Oscillation) and inter-decadal regimen shifts (i.e. Pacific Decadal Oscillation). Peru, along with Benguela and California upwelling ecosystems, is recognized for its large-scale pelagic fisheries since its start in the 1950’s. Even though Peru’s history of anchovy fisheries is widely recognized in text books, we know very little about the historical state of the ecosystem
before industrial fishing. In addition, marine ecosystems along the Peruvian coastline have provided goods and services since the establishment of ancient coastal communities in Peru (i.e. Inca and pre-Inca settlements). Archeological evidence indicates fishingrelated activity in human settlements and associated changes in the use of marine resources, dating back ca.13000 years ago. Also, during the 1970s Peru held the largest leatherback and green turtle fishery in the eastern Pacific. However, as previously stressed, knowledge of historical changes in population trends of marine species is largely restricted to a contemporary timeline (~ 60 years) and is limited to species considered to be of economic importance. We still have only a cursory understanding of the diversity and abundance of marine mega-vertebrates species before the onset of industrial fisheries.
This study will generate the first historical baseline of diversity and abundance for Peruvian marine fauna before industrial fisheries exploitation. This will represent novel information about historical species diversity and abundance, how environmental changes affected them and will serve as input information for meaningful conservation actions aiming to maintain ecosystems functionality in the light of global climate change.
  • To obtain a historical baseline of the diversity and abundance of marine megavertebrates focusing particularly in species of whales, sea birds and sea turtles
  • To examine the relationship between changes in abundance with climatic events (i.e. ENSO) and fisheries.